Monday evening, the Howard County Council is holding a public hearing on two new pieces of legislation that affect the Howard County Public Schools System. The first has to do with expanding the report on mold in Howard County schools and the second aims to get a more comprehensive look at school spending.
Howard County Council Chairman Calvin Ball proposed both pieces of legislation. He said they stem from parent’s desire for more transparency from the school system.
The call for more transparency first began when mold was discovered in Howard County Public Schools last year. The school system took steps to remedy the problem but despite renovations and multiple tests, the worry still lingers.
“There are still concerns. When I talk to parents, when I talk to children, when I talk to educators, they are still concerned about their environment,” said chairman Ball.
As part of a memorandum of understanding with the county, an independent consultant was hired by the County Department of Public Works to conduct air quality testing in 12 schools. The results were released in August. A number of spore count measurements were highlighted in red, raising a flag for parents. However, the consultant later released a statement clarifying that the readings were normal.
“Results confirmed our results, air quality was normal and no mold growth was found,” said Howard County Public Schools spokesman John White.
White added that HCPSS has also implemented new protocols when assessing the environmental quality in schools. They include walk-throughs by principals, classroom checklist reports, and new school-specific webpages that list reports and findings.
However, parents seeking more clarity asked Ball to help provide more context and analysis.
“There have been lots of concerns as it relates to mold and air quality, so I really wanted our Environmental Sustainability Board to perform an independent analysis of all the reports that contractors have made,” Ball said. The board is made-up of 13 local experts appointed by the County Executive.
In addition to the board’s review of the results, chairman Ball is also proposing that the Howard County Office of Law be allowed to take civil action if the school system does not comply with a financial audit.
“We passed legislation asking the county auditor to engage in a financial audit, the county auditor has made numerous requests as it relates to information and meetings and unfortunately the school system has not fully complied. I think it’s important we become champions for transparency and somebody’s got to hold the school system accountable,” Ball said.
The school system denies being non-compliant. They said they had other mandatory audits to fulfill and simply needed some time to gather the materials requested.
“It feels like an unnecessary use of time and money. It does put additional strain on the system but we’re going to do this in an orderly fashion and try to satisfy everyone,” White said.
However, others argue legislation is necessary to get the information desired.
“I think the County Council has been hearing from their constituents. There’s issues about mold, there’s issues about special education, the GT parents are upset, they’re not being involved, there’s so much of a wall being put up by Howard County Public Schools,” said Barb Krupiarz, the co-chair, for the Special Education Citizen’s Advisory Committee.
The Council is expected to vote on the legislation on October 5.